Dave Heitz, of New Hope, PA, died at his home on December 18, 2004 after a
long battle with cancer. Dave was widely respected and admired for his generosity
and knowledge, and his dedication to the legacy of Thomas Edison. Dave not only assembled
a stunning collection, he also created a private museum to display it. Beautifully
arranged and well-lit displays highlighted a magnificent array of Edisonia, ranging
from phonographs to motion picture projectors to light bulbs. The phonograph part
of the collection also included a number of rare Victors and Columbias. Most of us
can only dream of displaying our collections in a such an elegant manner. Dave took
great pains to create a museum which was the envy of even professional curators who
"The Edison Connection," as Dave called it, regularly welcomed students, seniors, antique auto tours, and other organized groups. His presentations were educational and vastly entertaining. He especially loved to delight young school children with demonstrations of tinfoil recordings, the evolution of the phonograph, and early Edison movies presented in his private theater setting, using an original hand-cranked large-scale projector. No doubt many children felt a new interest blossom during these eye-opening events.
Fellow collectors always knew they could count upon Dave for help in restoring
their phonographs. Photographs or descriptions of important details, suggestions
on techniques, historical information from his extensive files – Dave Heitz always
had something to offer and never hesitated to lend a helping hand. He took particular
pleasure in working on Edison electric motors, especially the "Class M"
phonographs, of which he had over a dozen variations. Many ultra-rare machines in
collections around the world are now complete thanks to Dave's generosity in loaning
priceless parts to be reproduced.
Dave's generosity was not limited just to his time and knowledge. On one visit I was joined by a friend who was a fanatic record collector. The topic of rare, early North American brown wax cylinders came up. Dave looked around for a moment, then pulled out a circa 1893 channel-rim NA cylinder and handed it to my friend, saying "here you go." Dave was simply happy to see it go to someone who truly appreciated it. On another occasion a visitor was carrying on about his favorite singer, Ada Jones. Dave went off for a bit and rummaged through a file drawer, then presented his guest with an autographed postcard sent by Ada to her nephew in the early part of the century. Several years ago when I sent him a picture of an Edison School Phonograph I was lucky enough to acquire, he surprised me by sending an original Edison factory promotional photograph dated 1912, saying it would look better in my collection than in his drawer. Just one more random act of kindness, for which Dave was so famous.
I also treasure the memories of cruising through the back roads behind his rural Pennsylvania home in his Model T touring car, with Dave activating the 'wolf whistle' and laughing like a teenager as we tore up the roads at 30mph. On one trip, after a pit stop at a local colonial-era tavern, Dave handed the keys to our friend Bill Ptacek and said "here, you drive." How many people do you know who would simply give the keys to a cherished antique auto to someone else?
For ten years Dave and his wife Nina hosted an annual party for fellow collectors. Over the years this event grew to the point that over 100 guests would come from all over the country to attend. These were truly memorable events, combining a lavish feast, a large silent auction, free reign of his stunning museum, and a specially organized educational presentation. For many of us, it was the highlight of the year.
However, despite his generosity, Dave Heitz was a very modest man. In the classic expression of the Edison era, he hid his light under a bushel. Dave's museum was open to anyone who would take the effort to visit, but he did little to promote it, and many people were not even aware of its existence. While he gladly let anyone take all the pictures they could possibly want, his one stipulation was that they not be used commercially. His eagerness to spread the word about Edison and the history of the phonograph was tempered by his own modesty. Not that Dave was a pushover -- far from it. He never hesitated to speak his mind, and he was a man of strong opinions. But fundamentally he was a lovable curmudgeon, a cantankerous teddy bear. A character, in the best sense of the term.
In June of 2004 Dave elected to sell his entire collection, to spare his family the eventual difficulty of handling such an overwhelming task. Although it was sad to see such a magnificent collection split up and sold, it allowed many other collectors all around the world to enjoy the privilege of having some of these exquisite artifacts in their own collections. It was a vivid reminder of the oft-stated truism that we never really own these treasures, but merely serve as caretakers until the next generation, to whom we have an obligation to preserve these tangible relics of our history.
Dave's museum is now a part of history as well, but his memory will live on. The pictures on this page will hopefully give those who never had a chance to experience his incredible museum an idea of just how unique it was. For those who did have the privilege of visiting, it should serve as a welcome reminder of a collection, and especially a collector, who enriched our hobby so much.
(As one of his last wishes, Dave Heitz requested that anyone who wished to offer a memorial in his name to please make a donation to the William C. Ptacek Scholarship Fund, c/o First State Bank of LaMoure, P.O. Box 46, Oakes, ND 58474.)
Rare phonographs lined the walls and were displayed in a row in the center of the large main room.
A rare coin-operated Edison Ajax and a gorgeous Edison Class M in Hawthorne & Sheble cabinet.
A nickel-plated Edison Home in rosewood cabinet and an Edison Diamond Disc A-290, both with elaborate inlaid designs.
An entire wing of the museum was devoted exclusively to coin-operated phonographs, of which only a few are shown in these pictures.
An upstairs gallery featured a lineup of early movie projectors as well as displays of light bulbs and other rare Edison electrical artifacts.
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